The death of content creator Jessica Pettway came as a shock to many people. Her family announced she passed away after a battle with cancer. The manner in which she learned of her cancer diagnosis was heartbreaking and likely an eye-opener for many women. In an Instagram post on July 31, 2023, Pettway revealed that she was in stage 3 of the disease. Her symptoms started with what she described as intense vaginal bleeding.

“Well, on July 1st, 2022 at 4am, my husband found me in the bathroom unresponsive and not breathing,” the influencer wrote on a post.

Pettway thought her pain was caused by fibroids. After making several hospital visits and getting more than a dozen blood transfusions, Jessica learned that she was misdiagnosed. Yes, black women are affected by both fibroids and cervical cancer. But, the two conditions are unrelated.

Cervical Cancer vs Fibroids

Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins, a board certified obstetrician gynecologist, says she was left confused when learning of Pettway’s story.

“How? How was this misdiagnosed? Because they are completely two different things,”Perkins, a board certified obstetrician said she asked herself.

Perkins say says fibroids are usually in a different area of the uterus than the cervix. And cervical cancer is usually linked to the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus, also known as HPV.

“One is a virus, one is a tumor,” Perkins explained.

Fibroids are a common diagnosis for women. They can cause heavy bleeding and a small percentage of fibroids can cause cancer. But there is no correlation between to the two. 

“HPV does not lead to fibroids. Fibroids do not increase the likelihood of getting HPV,” Perkins said.


The idea of cancer is frightening, but Dr. Perkins believes there is hope with treatment.

“No one in the United States should ever die of cervical cancer. It is one of those cancers that can be well-treated and your survival is very high,” Perkins explained. “Cervical cancer treatment leads to a really, really good prognosis.”

But she says getting the radiation or chemotherapy treatments early enough is a major factor. “

I’ve had patients even in their early thirties, upper twenties with cervical cancer. They’ll come back even in a couple years and they’re completely clear,” Perkins said.

Perkins also points out that side effects from the illness can linger. For Pettway, it’s important to note that in one Instagram post, a user asked if she was being treated for her illness. Her response was, “I’ve opted out.” Pettway spoke a lot about leaning on her faith to get through her health struggles.

The Harsh Truth About Prevention

HPV is one of the most common STIs in the United States.

“Please request from your doctor to send HPV on your pap smear.”

Perkins says there are more than 200 different strains of the virus. There are 14 strains that are considered high risk.

“With the invention of pap smears, which now has been around for 30 or 40 years, we’ve now been able to pretty earlier on see if you have cellular changes that can lead to cancer. As well as whether or not you have HPV,” Perkins explained.

There is also an HPV vaccine available for children as young as 11 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Perkins says pap smears and the vaccine have tremendously helped lower the cases of cervical cancer over the years. She does warn, however, that the vaccine doesn’t cover the strains affecting Black people the most. Dr. Perkins also stressed the importance of asking for speculum exams. This is especially vital if you are experiencing abnormal bleeding, like Pettway was.

“We should never think that the symptoms we’re having are normal,” the doctor warned.

She says other ways to prevent cervical cancer are decreasing the amount of sexual partners you have and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes eating well and exercising.

Support for Jessica and Black Women

There was a huge amount of support for Pettway when she announced that she had cancer. The online community again responded when learning of the influencers death. The reactions ranged from deep sadness to outrage about what happened to the young mother. Many women took to her Instagram profile to share their own health problems and discuss how important it is for Black women to be heard by medical professionals. Perkins says women don’t have to accept this.

“No one should have these symptoms she had including abnormal bleeding, heavy bleeding, requiring transfusions and not get it fixed,” Perkins stated. “If you’re not getting a solution to it, then your providers are not doing right by you.”